MINSK, Belarus – Team Canada is in the driver’s seat of its group at the world hockey championship after beating Sweden 3-2 in overtime.
Ryan Ellis scored the winner to put the Canadians there, atop Group A with one game left in the preliminary round. Now, a regulation victory over Norway on Tuesday would clinch the top seed and no chance of facing powerhouse Russia until the final.
“We put ourselves behind the 8-ball (by losing to France), but moving forward I think we’re obviously in pretty good shape,” Ellis said Sunday at Chizhovka-Arena. “We like where we sit. Obviously the last game here’s really important and (we want to) finish as high as we can.”
A regulation loss to Sweden would have guaranteed Canada second place in the group and a potential semifinal showdown with Alex Ovechkin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Russia, which won has its first five games and outscored Group B opponents 26-6 in the process.
It was — and remains — a two-horse race on Canada’s side because Sweden hadn’t lost a game until Ellis scored 2:22 into overtime after a patient play and pass by Mark Scheifele. The teams are tied with 15 points, but Canada now controls its path because of an almost-insurmountable goal-differential lead (plus-14 to plus-7).
But that’s only possible because Canada came out on top of Sweden in an even game.
“I think there was lots of chances both ways,” coach Dave Tippett said. “Lots of mistakes made by both teams. From a coaching standpoint, you look at the tape, there’ll be a lot of errors, but (those are) what leads to an entertaining game.”
Swedish coach Par Marts was “quite satisfied” with his team’s performance in spite of the loss. Tippett said the difference was Canada capitalizing on a quality chance in overtime.
Ellis took care of that.
“It’s anyone’s game in overtime and obviously it came down to one bounce and for us it was fortunate to get the bounce,” the Nashville Predators defenceman said. “The patience on Scheifele for such a young guy was unbelievable. He just put it right on my tape, and I just had to touch it.”
After falling behind 2-0 on goals by Joakim Lindstrom and Linus Klasen, Canada tied it thanks to goals from Brayden Schenn and captain Kevin Bieksa. A total of 11 minor penalties were called in regulation, helping to make this a game played more in either end than through the neutral zone.
Bieksa said he and his teammates expected that going in after watching how penalties were called in Sweden’s game against the Czech Republic. But that still took some adjusting for Ellis and this group of NHLers.
“When you play in the playoffs in the NHL and stuff like that, you usually get two or three power plays a game and you really have to make the most of that,” Ellis said. “At times here it’s more of a special-teams battle. Going forward I think we need to improve both sides of our special teams.”
Canada killed off all five Swedish power plays, extending its penalty-killing streak to 16 in a row over the past three games. But this wasn’t Denmark and it wasn’t Italy, which is why it was a good barometer with the quarter-final round looming Thursday.
“Structurally I thought we were a little better, but we lost some one-on-one battles that led to some chances against,” Tippett said. “Those are areas where you can look at and clean up, but we continue to build our game how we want to play and the pace we want to play at, and certainly today’s game was a big test for us.”
Canada passed the test in part because of the strong penalty kill, Bieksa’s power-play goal and also the play of goaltender Ben Scrivens, who stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced including a big one in overtime on Gustav Nyquist.
Scrivens and James Reimer have appeared so even in net that it’s not obvious which goalie will start against Norway and presumptively be the starter moving forward. Tippett deferred that decision until Monday when he gets the chance to meet with his staff.
But in beating Sweden to stay undefeated at this tournament, Scrivens has made it a battle.
“I think both Reims and me have given the team a chance to win each time we’ve played,” he said. “Hopefully we’ve made it difficult on the coaches who they want to go with. That’s all we can do is make their life difficult to choose which guy’s going to give us the best chance.”
For Canada to have the best chance of moving beyond the quarter-finals, where it could face the United States, Latvia, Finland, Switzerland, host Belarus or even Germany, it’ll likely take some replication of Sunday’s effort — maybe without the bevy of penalties.
Scrivens said each game so far has presented unique challenges, but Sweden was by far the strongest opponent yet.
Said Ellis: “It kind of shows us what the rest of the tournament’s going to be about and if we’re going to go any further how we’re going to have to play.”
NOTES — Jonathan Huberdeau was stopped by Nilsson on a first-period penalty shot. Huberdeau tried Peter Forsberg’s famous “stamp” move from the 1994 Olympics against Canada and had Nilsson beat until he got his glove on the Canadian forward’s stick at the last second. Nilsson, who made 28 saves, said he has seen Forsberg’s move plenty of times in his life and called it “sick” and hard for goalies to stop. … Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko was in attendance for his first game of the tournament at Chizhokva-Arena, the secondary site to Minsk Arena. In anticipation of his arrival, there was a higher volume of uniformed and plain-clothed security personnel than usual. … Alex Burrows did not play for Canada two days after suffering a leg injury from a knee-on-knee hit against Italy. Tippett said he was hopeful Burrows would skate Monday and be ready for Tuesday’s game against Norway.
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